Growing in fidelity: discerning and leading in a better way
Growing in fidelity: discerning and leading in a better way
David McCallum SJ, Executive Director of the Discerning Leadership Program and Sandra Chaoul, Director of the Discerning Leadership Accompaniment Network reflect on the recent edition of the discerning Leadership Programme offered to the participants from Asia and Africa, which took place in the months of February and March 2023.
“New wine, new wineskins”
Consecrated Life is a path of life where we are called to follow Jesus very closely, to be sent into the word in his name, and in a communitarian way. This requires attentive listening, a courageous mission, and a contemplative style of life, especially from the leadership teams that need to constantly ask: Where is the Spirit leading us?
Presently the Church is committed to a synodal journey amid a complex and high pace changing world, where so many of our brothers and sisters live unmatched opportunities and difficulties. Religious Life also faces this enormous new complexity. To remain faithful and to grow in fidelity to its calling, it needs to undergo a deep renewal, embracing, even more, the guidance of the Church and Gospel, not holding back onto the comfortable but deceiving practices of “we have always done in this way.”
New ways of exercising authority, on both the local and higher levels, respecting subsidiarity, collaborating in the council teams to create co-responsible processes of decision, and overcoming the temptation of the absence or abuse of power are some of the challenges that leadership needs to welcome.
Our time requires bold and creative Religious Life, that enables religious men and women to rethink the goals, structures, style and methods of their leadership bodies and practices. As Jesus tells us: “New wine, new wineskins” (Lk 5:37).
Hearing this call, the Discerning Leadership Programme - a partnership between Discerning Leadership, UISG and USG, with the funding of Conrad N. Hilton Foundation – responds by aiming to help sisters to rise to the challenge, providing them skills and tools to learn self-knowledge under the loving gaze of God that leads to inner freedom, and discernment alongside new leadership skills.
"Our time requires bold and creative Religious Life, that enables religious men and women to rethink the goals, structures, style and methods of their leadership bodies and practices."
Resources and challenges
Among the key resources we would firstly highlight how the tools made possible by technology (Zoom, breakout rooms, the possibility for live translation online, and various e-learning platforms like Moodle, Mentimeter, and Padlet), were definitely major resources for our course. Our experience proved that we can cultivate a powerful learning environment that goes beyond informational and unilateral "teaching" modes to provide an inclusive, engaging and dynamic learning space which could reach hundreds of leaders in different parts of the world. As a result, some sisters described how their experience was "transformational."
While we were aware of the time constraints and the limits of an online learning environment, it was possible to cover all the key topics that we usually explore in an in-person DL course and engage participants in meaningful and deep reflection.
The attention that faculty and the planning team brought to foster an interactive learning environment with moments of silence, prayer, and applications, instead of being too pre-occupied with covering the entire material, helped create a sense of the virtual learning space as "Holy Ground".
The great resource is also the generosity of the sisters, their availabilities and desire to learn and undertake the preparatory work, and their commitment to their online small groups and follow-up discussions in their local communities.
Last, but not least is we would like to mention that coordination of the UISG hosting team with the Discerning Leadership team and extended faculty was an incredible asset and a real joy for us as a team. The different people and resources build up and complemented beautifully for the best service to the participants.
As for the challenges - time is always a challenge, especially our desire to balance the polarity of offering enough content while also engaging the sisters in reflection and sharing. There was a consensus around the sisters' desires for longer small group sharing, although this was made more possible in the last week of the formation and in integration sessions (twice during the program)
Then: language barriers - it was sometimes difficult to keep a pace and an accent that works for everyone, the translators were also exposed for the first time to very sophisticated terms and leadership concepts, and it was sometimes difficult to capture everything.
For many of the sisters, this seemed to be the first online learning experience that involved the use of tools like Zoom, and this required patience from everyone, but also the opportunity for this practical learning. Some of the participants let us know that their connectivity wasn't always stable.
Fruits of the course
We already noticed changes in the way the sisters perceive leadership. We would highlight the importance of discernment, inner awareness and inner freedom in leadership, which many sisters seemed to appreciate a great deal. They could see the value of greater integration between the spiritual life of the leader and their active discernment in action and service.
This first online experience opened the way and confirmed the pressing need for this kind of formation. We are grateful to all those who made this program possible and to the sisters who enrolled with their generous participation from Asia and Africa. Sooner rather than later, we wish to repeat and improve this format and extend it to other languages and contexts in the world.
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